Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Brer Rabbit Car Commercial



I thought I'd share with you all this 1955 American Motors commercial that I found on YouTube a while back as it's really quite amusing. Many of you may know that Disney dabbled in TV commercials when the studio's budget was tight back in the 40's and 50's. At the time, Disney was recovering from the financial setbacks of World War II while also trying to launch Disneyland's opening and its new television series Disneyland. To help offset the costs, Disney began producing TV commercials like the one feature above.

A great article from Animation World Magazine written by Jim Korkis documents Walt Disney's production of these commercials and includes interviews with Disney veterans about this era. According to Korkis, Disney produced two kinds of commercials: those "featuring the classic Disney characters primarily for sponsors of the Disneyland television program like American Motors and Derby Foods" and others "for a variety of other accounts, often creating memorable new advertising character icons from Tommy Mohawk for Mohawk Carpets to Fresh up Freddie for the 7-Up soft drink."

Korkis' interview with Harry Tytle reveals the frustrating nature of these commercial contracts, citing Disney's sentiment that there was "no residual value" and that they were entirely at the "whim of the client." But these commercials brought in big bucks for the company at a time when capital was needed to help launch Disney's success.



It's interesting how different these commercial characters were as opposed to their feature-film counterparts. I've posted a black and white picture of Brer Rabbit above from the film for comparison. In the film, Brer Rabbit has much rounder, soft features and is less stylized in the modern mid-century fashion than the commercial character is. The commercial animation and designs were likely a product of Tom Oreb's. They do resemble the work Oreb did for similar cartoons like the Mickey Mouse American Motors commercial and the Peter Pan peanut butter commercials. (A character model sheet for the Peter Pan commercial is pictured below copyright of the Walt Disney company and courtesy of the Animation World Magazine.)



The American Motors "Nash Rambler" commercial really struck me as unusual, particularly because Disney never released the movie Song of the South to home video or DVD as a result of the racial controversy surrounding the film. Offhand, it seemed like an unusual choice to use the Brer characters, particularly since the film had been released in theaters some nine years earlier. Additionally, other major feature films such as Peter Pan, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland were hitting theaters during these years.

As it turns out, the choice to use Song of the South characters was maybe not so random as it first appeared. Evidently, as a promotional tool, the Disney company had launched a Song of the South based cartoon strip entitled Uncle Remus & His Tales of Brer Rabbit in 1945 before the movie was released. This cartoon strip was popular enough to continue running for 30 years after its original launch, making the characters well-known. An example of the cartoon strip is posted below courtesy of Lambiek.net whose webpage goes further into depth on Paul Murry, the illustrator of the Uncle Remus Sunday comic strip, and other comic strips he illustrated.

33 comments:

Jeff Pepper said...

Your right about the Brer characters, Lainey. They were pretty prominent throughout the rest of the forties and into the 1950s. They turned up in comic books all the time.

The film itself was released to theaters again in 1956.

Jessica said...

Great post! I never knew about the Br'er characters appearing in comic books - although I must admit I am very ignorant in that area of Disneyana.

What a fantastic commercial - all-season air conditioning. What will they think of next!

Jim Korkis said...

Lainey, let me add to the many compliments to your site and your writing style. Your blog is one of the stops I now make each morning.

Also, I am flattered you linked to my article on the Disney commericals. Many thanks for doing so since I don't think many Disney fans access Animation World Network and I love sharing information with fellow fans. I am currently working on an article entitled "Who's Afraid of the Song of the South?" for Hogan's Alley magazine that will appear early next year. It will cover everything I have been able to find out about the film including why one writer left because another married writer was using his name and identity to fool around with a young lady at Disney, how Walt acted out the roles of the animals at the Phoenix, Arizona location where the live action was filmed, and more.

The recent issue of Hogan's Alley that was just released features my article on Disney's unmade "Gremlins" feature. Just wanted to say how much I enjoy your writing and look forward to reading it for a long time to come.

Lainey Schallock said...

Jim, what an honor to know you've discovered my blog and are enjoying the material. I certainly didn't think you'd ever be reading my humble little blog and I'm so glad that you shared your comment with me! I thought your article was really wonderful and have heard many such great pieces of writing referred to by other fans around the blogosphere.

I'm curious to know more about how you became interested in animation and writing about the subject and Disney history in general. How do you land such great interviews and where do you get all your information? All of your pieces are really eye opening and I look forward to reading your new article on the Song of the South for Hogan's Alley! I'll also look for the article on "Gremlins" - I'm curious about it since this is the first time I've heard it mentioned.

I thank you again so much for making my blog part of your routine stops and hope I can continue to live up to your high expectations. Please feel free to always submit comments and additional information as this blog is really as much about a learning experience for me as what I can share with others. Best to you Jim - Lainey

Henrieke said...

Actually, Brer Rabbit is still a popular comic character! In the Netherlands, he appears in a comic at least once a month, and even on a cover every now and then.
The comics are now written in the Netherlands and drawn by the spanish comicup studio. At the moment pretty much all Brer comics are being drawn by Jose Ramon Bernado, and the Dutch Bas Heymans also started drawing Brer comics recently.
In the 80's, Brer Rabbit really appeared a lot in the weekly because Ed van Schuijlenburg, who was the art supervisor back then, really seemed to like Brer Rabbit. He drew a lot of comics and covers featuring Brer Rabbit. Unfortunately I hardly have any comic issues from the 80s, so I haven't seen much of those stories yet. I do have a lot of Brer Rabbit comics drawn by Dick Matena, who made quite a lot of those over the years. And ofcourse, old Brer comics were reprinted every now and then.
My favorite Brer artist is Carlos Grangel, though. He made a few comics for the Dutch market before he became famous, and these are REALLY great!
Brer Fox and Brer Bear appear in even more comics than Brer Rabbit, because they're also cast members in many of the Zeke Wolf comics. I own more than 600 comics with these guys in it, and I'm not even a collector! I just never throw anything away ;)
A while ago I even found some old magazines from 1953 among some thrown away books, and I was really surprised to find a Brer comic in every issue! Brer Rabbit wasn't even introduced in the Disney weekly back then. And last but not least, Brer used to appear in the women-magazine 'Margriet', which was being read by many housewifes.
I hope to make some Brer comics soon, in the style of the original movie and book. I doubt if most of the artists and writers now have actually seen the movie.

Sorry for the long babble!

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